20:20, Tuesday 25 Nov., 2014

Last Thursday's hardware-ish coffee morning was fun. Lovely to spend time with Tom, Charles and David, Daniel, Alex, Dan, Basil, and Ben. Thank you for coming!

Although... Too Many Dudes. Something to fix for next time.

Here's a pic of our sign to alert people that this was a Coffee Morning With Intent.

And Ben is part of Knyttan which does on-demand knitted jumpers on industrial knitting machines. Here he is wearing the test pattern, which had a lot of fans.

So, what happened? We sat round a table and people chatted with people. Zero structure, except for 5 minutes for everyone to say their names and what they're doing at moment (arcade machines, newspapers, jumpers, just interested). Plus coffee. I think everyone left at about 11. I'm not sure what everyone else discussed but I had a chat about telescopes and another about what a "minimum viable product" is in hardware, and also I found out about a hardware/making cluster at Somerset House, all of which was very enjoyable.

Conclusions. I like coffee and I like mornings and I liked chatting with everyone. There will be another! Probably next week. I'll let you know.

Interconnected

A weblog by Matt Webb.

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14:21, Sunday 23 Nov.

1.

Get Your Kicks on the Route G6.

The Economist (from 2012) on China's growing network of expressways, and the culture of driving it's kicking off. Everything from service stations with rubbish shops, to the Beijing-Tibet Expressway: several thousand kilometers from Beijing, across China, then a climb up onto the Tibetian plateau itself.

You need oxygen cannisters for the altitude sickness on the drive.

2.

Piccolo is a pocket-sized, open source drawing robot. Attach a pen and make it draw.

See also Mirobot, which is bigger and Wi-Fi connected too.

3.

Christmas in Yiwu by Dan W. Over the summer, Dan travelled across China and by container ship following the electronics supply chain... this piece is about his visit to a vast commodity market.

I expected to find bizarre oddities but the products were all familiar. I'd seen them in pound shops and market stalls already.

And:

In the bridges between Districts I would sometimes see counterfeit money in various currencies being sold off a blanket on the floor.

Incredible. Where shit comes from. It all reads like something Bruce Sterling might write.

4.

I currently have my nose deep in Mike Brearley's The Art of Captaincy which is ostensibly about how to captain a cricket team, but is really all about the psychology of groups (Brearley became a psychoanalyst after retiring from cricket).

But also in the book is the concisest description of what class means in Britain.

Until 1954, every captain of England was an amateur; that is, he was not paid to play cricket. (The Latin root imples that amateurs played because of love of the game, rather than for anything so base as money.) Before the War, and for some time afterwards, the distinction was secure. Amateurs had different changing-rooms, stayed in better hotels, and emerged on to the playing area through separate gates. They stated when they were able to play, which explans why a cricketer of G.O. Allen's stature played only 146 matches for Middlesex in a career spanning twenty-six seasons. Their names were represented differently on score-cards, either as 'Mr' or with 'Esq.', or with the initials before rather than after their surnames. In 1950 Fred Titmus played his first game at Lord's. It was a fine Saturday, with a good crowd. An announcement came over the loudspeaker: 'Ladies and gentlemen, a correction to your scorecards: For "F.J. Titmus" read "Titmus, F.J.".'

[...] By no means all the amateurs in cricket were High Tories in background or style. They had simply gone on from school to Oxbridge, been good at cricket, and followed a natural route into the first-class game. (Indeed, until 1981 the Wisden 'Births and Deaths' list marked out those of us who played for Oxford or Cambridge as 'Mr'.)

That's a lot of what you need to know about this country, right there.

16:05, Wednesday 19 Nov.

1.

New to me: It turns out cricket standardised on six balls per over relatively recently. Test cricket used to use four balls, eight per over was used in the 1974 Ashes... it's been six since 1979/80.

I'm always curious about the things and institutions we take for granted now, and how they started.

The Football Association was founded in 1863. The Scout movement in 1907.

Or the Psychoanalytic Society in 1902 and the Macy conference (cybernetics) in 1954. Different trajectories.

The Civil Service - the 447,000 strong organisation of apolitical bureaucrats instilled with public service values that runs the UK - the Civil Service was originally created for a private company, East India Company, that trained its previously-amateur adminstrators to run its operations in India and prevent its leaders from running amok.

And somehow the East Indian Company didn't disappear but in the process of becoming Empire, flipped inside-out and now it is the state?

The founding report in 1853 gave the service its core values of integrity, propriety, objectivity and appointment on merit, able to transfer its loyalty and expertise from one elected government to the next -- and took its inspiration from what had already been done by the Chinese.

The Northcote-Trevelyan Report!

2.

Wildcard is a new iPhone app that embodies an emerging user interface: Cards.

Cards are single units of content or functionality, presented in a concise visual format that resembles a real world playing card or postcard.

Twitter is made out of cards, once tweets become actionable (perhaps with a 'Buy Now' button).

Most of my inbox is cards, or notifications of changes to cards. Accept a Linkedin invitation. Add a recommended book to a basket. Take a meeting.

I've got some history with this, so I buy the cards paradigm.

3.

Denim Breaker Club, from the always-interesting Hiut.

Jeans.

So there's this:

You are going to break our selvedge jeans in for our customers. You will have to agree to not wash them for 6 months. You will have to agree to update what you get up to in them on HistoryTag. And before you get them sent to you have pay a small deposit, which we will refund on their safe return. When we get them back, we will expertly wash them. And then we will sell these beautiful jeans. You will have 20% of the sale.

And there's this:

Will this reduce the carbon footprint of a jean? What will ownership look like in the future? Does trust still matter?

Good grief these folks are good. I'm watching closely, what an incredible petri dish for the future of products.

4.

I've always thought of GPS as being like a bunch of satellites that broadcasts the grid of very fine graph paper across the whole world. Then we can see the grid and count our way across it.

Andrei Derevianko is mining 15 years of historic GPS data to look for anomalies.

It turns out the universe might have fracture lines across it, folds along which the mass of an electron is different from the norm. If these lines exist, the solar system would pass over them as it orbits round the galactic core; it would take 170 seconds for the anomaly to move across the GPS network.

That's what Derevianko is looking for.

12:18, Monday 17 Nov.

tl;dr let's hang out this Thurs. and chat hardware

I think it was the week before last, I had just got back from holiday, and I had three meetings with hardware startups, all wanting to talk through what they were doing, and each at a different stage. Some of what we were talking about was startup stuff - like, what to do first - and some was technical (what code should run where?) - and most of it was, you know, let's just chat through this.

It was fun for me for a couple of reasons. First because there is a hardware boom in London and that's exciting. There are some great hardware-focused meetups, and some good semi-private communities, but I find the chitter-chatter especially enjoyable. The second reason is that, with Berg gradually taking less of my time, I find myself (a) wanting to lend a hand, even in a small way, to people getting going with products and hardware etc; and (b) missing hanging round smart people with that particular bent and learning from them.

I guess that's one of the things I love about hardware and the Internet of Things and all that nonsense. You can go from embedded software to supply chain via character design in a single conversation, and that appeals to my Attention Gadabout Disorder.

So what I'm saying is, we should see more of each other.

Coffee mornings

I'm inspired by Russell Davies' coffee mornings that he did for a year or two back in 2006/7. A regular spot, an open door, and a good crowd. Let's do it!

9.30am till whenever, Thursday 20th, The Book Club.

(3 days from now.)

I'm a bit of a morning person, sorry about that.

No agenda except coffee and hanging out. But if you're into hardware (making or manufacture), Internet of Things, knitting, shops, China, sending stuff through the post, so on and so forth, please feel particularly welcome. Tom's coming along, it'd be lovely to see you too. If it's fun we'll do it again.

12:32, Friday 14 Nov.

1

All Cameras are Police Cameras by James Bridle, the first of a series of reports from The Nor, an investigation into paranoia, electromagnetism, and infrastructure.

All about the Third London Wall, one made not out of stone or checkpoints but bits, electrons and radio waves.

Full of good meaty stuff like this: Surveillance images are all "before" images, in the sense of "before and after". The "after" might be anything [...]

But - I don't know - something about power and whatever-comes-after-matter. Paranoia too, that's a fucking massive looming ocean that we can't even tell we're in. I'm glad James is looking, I hope he can see it and tell us.

2

Two images on Twitter I liked.

Second most common languages in the 30-something London boroughs, being: Punjabi, Gujurati, Polish, Turkish, Urdu, Spanish, Portugeuse, Arabic, Bengali, French, Tamil, Nepalese, and Lithuanian. Why I love London.

That comet we [humanity] just landed on, 30 light minutes away, called either comet 67P or Churyumov-Gerasimenko... here's the comet comped over a city. It's either really big or really small, I'm not sure which.

I was just trying to describe why I liked this so much. Frontiers. Because we should be mining the Moon and populating the Asteroid Belt.

The Little Prince.

China called its Moon rover Jade Rabbit which sadly didn't rove as much as hoped. When its battery died, the announcement was made in the voice of Jade Rabbit itself: Although I should've gone to bed this morning, my masters discovered something abnormal with my mechanical control system ... Nevertheless, I'm aware that I might not survive this lunar night.

3

I'm thinking a bunch about how to best help startups. Paul Miller and Jessica Stacey wrote Good Incubation, a report on how to incubate specifically social ventures. (Paul runs Bethnal Green Ventures, a London startup accelerator that focuses on social good and has done everything from 3D printed prosthetics for kids, to a smartphone with an ethical supply chain.)

Conventionally a startup's progress is measured by revenue, traction, funding, etc.

Part II of the report puts forward a way of seeing startups by their primary challenge, and therefore how they can be most helpfully supported.

There are five archetypes:

For each, the report points out its needs and common pitfalls.

4

Toba Boca, genius makers of smartphone toys for kids, have released a gentle, gorgeous woodland snowglobe called Toca Nature.

It doesn't persist, you re-make your world each time you play. You don't raise and lower the land, you make lakes for beavers and mountains for wolves. You make little discoveries. You don't look up at the sky, you look into the forest.

I've always been taken by the Wood Between the Worlds in the Narnia books. A transitional forest outside time and space, in the gaps between the eleven worlds. A quiet woodland pond for each world, step into it and--

10:22, Wednesday 12 Nov.

1.

Maybe I should be adopting Michael Sippey's low-pressure philosophy for 'filtered': I used to blog; I haven't in a while. I miss it. So this is trying something new, without the daily pressure of a capital B Blog, or the content pressure of a the capital E Essay. Start a new draft post on Monday, dump things in it over the week, rewrite and cull along the way, what’s left gets published on Friday. Let’s see how long I keep this up.

Low-pressure filtering? Cold brew blogging.

It's a philosophy that seems to be working.

2.

Long read on The Knowledge from the New York Times Style magazine. the Knowledge is the examination taken by black cab drivers in London... deep knowledge of 25,000 streets and everything on them.

Fascinating how revision works and how the test works. Revision: A series of 320 runs across central London that you rehearse by crossing on a motorbike and taking notes. The test: Verbal, over many months, increasing in complexity and frequency. There is no such thing as "failing" the Knowledge. You can either quit, or persevere and pass.

3.

An Interview with Stanley Kubrick by Joseph Gelmis, 1969. I referenced Kubrick and 2001 a ton at my Web Directions talk (video online soon apparently). Two favourite quotes:

Actually, film operates on a level much closer to music and to painting than to the printed word, and, of course, movies present the opportunity to convey complex concepts and abstractions without the traditional reliance on words. I think that 2001, like music, succeeds in short-circuiting the rigid surface cultural blocks that shackle our consciousness to narrowly limited areas of experience and is able to cut directly through to areas of emotional comprehension.

And:

One of the things we were trying to convey in this part of the film is the reality of a world populated -- as ours soon will be -- by machine entities who have as much, or more, intelligence as human beings, and who have the same emotional potentialities in their personalities as human beings. We wanted to stimulate people to think what it would be like to share a planet with such creatures.

4.

A Ranking of All 118 Sweaters Seen on Twin Peaks.

Diligent.

Slideshow here.

15:28, Wednesday 5 Nov.

Hello. Hello? Is this thing on?

I was at a conference last week and the closing speaker, Tobias, ended his presentation by saying I'm Sorry instead of Thank You.

I liked that. I'm sorry. Hello.

15:58, Wednesday 5 Jun., 2013

Okay I've been blocked on a bit of writing for about two weeks. And since it appears I can't think my way out of a paper bag, how about we have some random links from my open tabs.

Fingers crossed, now unblocked.

20:23, Wednesday 15 May.

I've been doing some competitive landscape analysis around connected products/Internet of Things platforms -- I'll write up my thoughts soon. During research I touched on Bluetooth 4, which seems like it could be the connective tissue of a peripheral ecosystem around smartphones just as USB was for peripherals around the PC.

And in this section, I hadn't included Apple's MFi Program in the list (MFi is hardware and certification for iPod, iPhone and iPad.) Greg asked me why. Well, I said, they don't do enough UX integration, and besides, I don't want to give them any ideas. If they did what I think they should do, they would totally own connected products.

But hell! The Big 3 are full of the smartest technologists on the planet!

It's not for lack of ideas that they aren't doing this.

So here's how Apple, or Amazon, or Google could totally become the platform for the future world of connected products, and - with a connected products platform of my own - the thought that one of them might make a move like this is what keeps me up at night.

Amazon

Starting point: With the Kindle, Amazon have an amazing chip that has global connectivity via 3G. They also have a billing model where the content provider pays for delivery (currently $0.15/MB for Amazon.com deliveries to the US, which explains why you don't get many graphics-heavy books on the Kindle). This kind of billing infrastructure is hard.

What happens: Amazon apply their genius for service oriented architecture (SOA) to Kindle's Whispernet functionality, take advantage of their economies of scale, and provide wireless chips that any developer can use. Just as they SOA'd their storage requirements into S3, and their server farms into EC2 - now both services that are the tarmac of the modern web - they couple this SOA'd hardware connectivity with Amazon Web Services, and create the perfect platform for connected products. Of course Amazon also own an identity system with associated credit cards/payments platform. Plus they really get APIs.

Amazon would own connected products. You wouldn't build on anything else.

Apple

Starting point: The emerging smartphone peripheral ecosystem (appcessories and whatnot) is built around Bluetooth 4, the low power wireless standard that Apple have been including in their products since 2011.

What happens: Right now dealing with appcessories on the iPhone sucks (claiming and syncing), so Apple add some minor UX support, adding hardware products to the homescreen with a parallel to Newstand called Nightstand -- a virtual table for physical things. You associate each product with your Apple ID. Then, to solve the problem that connected products need to talk to the web without a smartphone present, they activate the Bluetooth 4 already present in the Apple TV (and maybe add one to the Airport Express), and make it so that any product that can connect via your smartphone can also connect via any Apple TV you've signed in on using the same Apple ID. For bonus points, iCloud is used for the messaging layer, so any data sent via the Apple TV also shows up on your iPhone. Of course Apple owns an identity system with associated credit cards, fully capable of micro-payments and subscriptions.

Apple would own connected products. You wouldn't build on anything else.

Google

Starting point: Android. Motorola.

What happens: Google take cheap cellphone guts - the peace dividend of the smartphone war -and use Motorola to release a development platform that runs Android, rebooting the Android @Home program that was launched back in 2011 with smartphone-controlled lightbulbs. In this new 2013 world of Arduino and Raspberry Pi, hardware is way more accepted... but loads of people already know how to develop for Android. So developers flock to this new platform. You're not locked into Google's hardware, because Android hardware is commoditised down to the CPU, unlike similar offerings from Amazon or Amazon. The UX is provided by Android apps, of course. Google Cloud Messaging is used to link the connected hardware to regular ol' websites that developers build themselves. Websites are easy, and Google trusts the web. The platform is a great combination of open and familiar. Google also owns an identity system, and a payments platform.

(A note: I don't think Google could pull off the Apple model of a peripheral ecosystem built around Bluetooth 4. Google doesn't have enough non-smartphone presence in the home, and Android fragmentation would be a major problem -- especially Samsung's ownership of the front room via the Smart TV platform, which would put the two companies at odds.)

Google would own connected products. You wouldn't build on anything else.

Who I'd back

I wouldn't back any of 'em.

It's true, if any of the Big 3 made a move like this, you'd be dumb to use anything else for your Kickstarter project or new hardware company. It would be great. So many common problems would be solved.

But I'd be sad. We'd be stuck with a platform that met our imaginations only of today. It wouldn't evolve; big companies are too slow.

We're only going to discover the weird and wonderful opportunities of connected products once we've rolled our sleeves up and got our hands dirty. How are connected products going to change our homes, our offices, our cities, our social lives? Who knows. It'll take years to find out. And at that point, maybe we can have a dominant platform. That'll be fine. Until then there's BERG Cloud and a dozen others to help figure it out. There will be more. Let a thousand flowers bloom!

14:25, Tuesday 14 May.

How To Price Your Hardware Product, Marc Barros:

The mistake most hardware startups make is they don't charge enough because they don't think of the problems they will encounter at scale. They don't calculate the real cost to deliver their product to a customer's door, they leave no margin to sell through retail down the road when opportunities arise, and they can't easily raise the price after it has been set.

Covers some good points that you need to take into account, beyond your profit margin:

All points that are easy to forget when you're looking at the bill of materials for whatever the core component is.

Here's one of Barros' examples using top-down pricing: $200 retail means you get $101.80 from your customer. A product cost of $58.10 means you have a margin of $43.70, or 42.9%. He recommends shooting for a margin of 50%. All reasonable, sensible, I like his summary for this: Don't be afraid to charge more. Long term, your loyal customers will thank you for staying in business. You're not thanking your customers in any way if your low margins mean you have to skimp on customer service, or developing improvements to the product they've invested in.

To my mind, there are two disruptions that make this take on pricing difficult.

Kickstarter

I think about Kickstarter hardware projects in two categories. There are those made for love not money. (And that's cool -- hardware products, like any creative act, can be made for 1,000 true fans with the potential - but not requirement - to break through into the mainstream. I love it.) Then there are those where Kickstarter is about getting mindshare, learnings, and the infrastructure to build the products that come after this one -- there's no profit requirement. That's cool too: In an established company, products sit underwater for a long time before they break even.

These projects are low margin, funded by love and future expectations, and - because Kickstarter is also a great distribution platform - they don't need to build in retail margin. Consequently the prices are lower than equivalent non-Kickstarter projects.

Amazon

I use Amazon as a proxy for the shifting sands of new business models. The Kindle is sold at cost, or below: It's all touchscreen, PCBs, and battery. Where do Amazon make their money? Well, nowhere yet... they're a notoriously low margin, long term view company. But once they make $3/month additional sales, the Kindle Fire moves into profit. But think about this... if the $159 was sold with the same markup suggested by Barros, we'd see a RRP of $547. Insane.

This isn't new. Cellphones have been subsidised by carriers for years, their high up-front offset against monthly bills. Car financing is common. DFS functions more like a credit company then a sofa store.

But it's becoming more common in the hardware world as subscription relationships become more accepted -- and more necessary. When products connect to the cloud, the cost structure changes once again. On the one hand, there are ongoing network costs which have to be paid by someone. You can do that with a cut of transactions on the platform, by absorbing the network cost upfront in the RRP, or with user-pays subscription.

We're finding product categories dominated by one business model or another. It's hard to enter a subscription-dominated category with a straight-forward retail model. Your product will look too expensive.

It's not as easy as it once was.

Enough product companies are operating at zero margin, or on some alternate business model, that pricing hardware is no longer as simple as making sure you have the right margin.

Continue reading...

All posts made in May. 2013

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